Summary: We have all faced this question at some point: how can God send people who have never heard of Jesus to Hell? Here are some answers from a very reliable source.
Passage: Matthew 11:20-24
Intro: One of the most difficult questions in our faith concerns the punishment of the nonbeliever.
1. you can’t talk long with people before this question raises its head.
2. how can God send people who have never heard of Jesus Christ to an eternity of torment?
3. well, let’s take a look at this question as Jesus makes some powerful statements here in Matthew 11:20-24
4. let’s remember the context; Jesus has been speaking of the twin revelations of John and Himself, and how some have not responded.
5. and now He responds in a very powerful way that is very instructive.
6. and in doing so, He makes some very clear statements that answer our original question.
I. God Expects a Response of Repentance to Revelation.
1. We like to see Jesus as very tolerant, very accepting, very gentle.
2. He has been so; healing, spending time with society’s outcasts, raising the dead.
3. but v20 shows a facet we are not as comfortable with.
4. “Jesus began to denounce” the word is very strong, used only in Matthew in NT
5. to reproach with indignation…there is emotion here.
6. this denunciation was directed at the cities in which He had been active.
7. just in Matthew so far, He had healed many sick, raised the dead, given sight to the blind, speech to the dumb, mobility to the paralyzed, sanity to the demon- possessed.
8. Jesus was very active. Here’s proof!
PP John 21:25
9. But clearly these miracles, this revelation had a purpose.
10. Jesus denounced these cities because they did not respond to the miracles in the way they should have.
11. they should have repented. What does this mean?
12. throughout the Bible, when a person met God, there was an appropriate response.
13. as Jesus walked among people, He revealed Himself as God in the flesh.
14. when He healed the paralytic in Matthew 9, He also forgave His sins as proof that He was God, authorized to do so.
15. to repent, then, is the appropriate response to seeing God, whose presence reveals our sinfulness.
16. the word “repentance, means “to turn around.”
17. so it begins with a recognition of wrongdoing, sinfulness.
18. and it continues with a turning away from that sinfulness to embrace God’s holiness as my own, to take advantage of the provision made for the forgiveness of my sin and reconciliation with a holy God.
19. this is God’s expectation: Revelation that will cause repentance that leads to reconciliation.
20. and when that does not happen, when revelation is rejected or ignored, then reconciliation is not achieved and we remain in the prison cell of sin and death.
21. that is the system, the plan and purpose of God.
II. Punishment Takes Opportunity into Account.
1. Jesus makes some additionally striking statements.
2. specific woes on Israelite cities, but the comparison he makes is incredible.
3. first, Tyre and Sidon, denounced by OT prophets for worshipping Baal.
PP Amos 1:9-10
4. certainly Israel was far superior to these twin cities, in their view.
5. yet here Jesus says they would have responded to revelation if they had received it and repented with great fervor.
6. so, v22 tells us “it will be more bearable on the day of judgment…”
7. why more bearable? Because they did not receive the clear revelation that Israel did.
8. and then an even greater example, Sodom.
9. a by-word for sinfulness and God’s judgment, certainly Israel is superior to that city!
10. No! Sodom would have repented if they had received the revelation that Israel did, and so their judgment will be lesser.
PP “When Jesus says to the cities of Chorazin and Bethsaida, “I shall be more tolerable on the day of judgment for Tyre and Sindon than for you…or when he says that the scribes “will receive the greater condemnation” (Luke 20:47) he implies that there will be degrees of punishment on the last day.” Wayne Grudem
11. here is the bottom line. God is absolutely righteous and just.
12. It is consistent with His justice that punishment is in line with the revelation a person or region has received.
13. everyone has the revelation of creation, but not everyone has heard the good news of Jesus Christ.
14. and there will be punishment, but it will meted out according to the righteousness of God consistent with the revelation they have received,, and we can rest in that.
III. What Does This Mean to Me?
1. now an easy response to this would be to say that we should keep our mouths shut about Jesus so people will have lesser judgment.
2. but of course to reveal the truth about Jesus is our calling and task.